May 09, 2009
US Energy Dept Kills Hydrogen Vehicle Program

US Energy Secretary Steven Chu has announced the end of the US government's program to develop a hydrogen-powered car. Hydrogen is difficult to store and the whole project faces other problems that will take a long time to solve. Speaking as a long-running skeptic of the hydrogen vehicle program this looks like good news. The money freed up can be directed toward better batteries and other more promising ideas.

The Obama Administration has also brought the carbon sequestering FutureGen coal electric power plant back to life. But does coal with carbon sequestration have a chance of competing with nuclear power on costs?

Share |      Randall Parker, 2009 May 09 06:08 PM  Energy Hydrogen


Comments
James Bowery said at May 10, 2009 11:14 PM:

If they sequester it under ground no. If they convert the CO2 into high value products, yes.

Fat Man said at May 10, 2009 11:36 PM:

Good on the Hydrogen car. It has been an obvious bust for a while. Bad on sequestration. A pointless exercise.

JAY said at May 11, 2009 4:53 AM:

Good! The government has no skill at selecting energy solutions. Now if they would just stop funding the thousand other energy boondoggles, they could give the money back to the people.

odograph said at May 11, 2009 6:52 AM:

Hydrogen down, Ethanol to go.

Craig Howard said at May 11, 2009 7:14 AM:

"Now if they would just stop funding the thousand other energy boondoggles, they could give the money back to the people."

Sometimes the government needs to fund research projects that the private sector, for whatever reason, will not fund. And like all research, some projects succeed but most do not. Without government "intervention" in research and development, there would have been no GPS and no internet.

Greg said at May 11, 2009 7:59 AM:

The only cases where government support for research would be sometimes beneficial are: (1) when potential rewards, while being obvious, are extremely difficult to harvest and monetize; and (b) when rewards are very difficult to keep private and, especially, away from government hands. The Internet most clearly fits the first description (it's still often a problem to build a viable business model for many enterprises built upon it), and GPS fits the second. However, even in these cases it's much wiser just to set the goal by implementing the tax policy than to directly fund the research. In this particular fuel cell vs. carbon sequestration case, the government picks winners and losers - so the closer you are to the government, the better your chances are.

JAY said at May 11, 2009 8:26 AM:

Just because the government did something doesn't mean the private sector wouldn't have. The government backs one foolish scheme after another. The government crowds out innovation. They don't encourage new products. They stifle them. We would have the internet and gps with or without the government.

James Bowery said at May 11, 2009 8:51 AM:

JAY is correct about goverment technology development: Technosocialism is probably the second worst curse visited upon technological civilization. The worst curse is a capital market rendered incompetent to fund technology by the taxation of economic activity rather than charging premiums of asset holders, insuring their property rights against loss due to force and fraud.

Michael said at May 11, 2009 8:53 AM:

Re: hydrogen

Who'd a thunk?

kurt9 said at May 11, 2009 10:58 AM:

The most likely scenario is that hydrocarbon fuels will continue to be used for transportation, but that the fuel itself will be made either by synthetic biology based enzyme chemistry or by thermal processes using nuclear power (either fission or fusion) as the energy source. Even if this results in "gasoline" that sells for around $5-6 a gallon, hybrid car technology will evolve over the next 2-3 decades that will result in cars that have an average fuel efficiency in the 35-40 MPG range, thus making driving in 2030 about the same price per mile as conventional cars are today.

I do not have confidence that battery or other electrical storage technology will completely replace hydrocarbon fuels in the foreseeable future. As someone who has experience working with Hydrogen gas, I can tell you that it is so difficult to handle and store that it is not credible as an energy storage technology.

It is worth noting that modern railroad locomotives are hybrids. That is, diesel fuel is used to drive turbines which, in turn, generate electricity that is used to drive the locomotive. There are very few direct drive locomotives in service today.

Dave said at May 11, 2009 1:34 PM:

35-40 mpg in 2-3 decades?

VW comes out with a car that can do 235mpg in 2010!
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volkswagen_1-litre_car


--
http://www.scuderigroup.com/
"The Scuderi Split-Cycle turbocharged engine has a power rating at 6000 rpm of over 145 hp per liter.

The Scuderi Engine enables the industry to drastically downsize its engines (reducing fuel consumption and CO2 emissions) without compromising performance."

Allan said at May 11, 2009 6:50 PM:

Craig-Without government "intervention" in research and development, there would have been no GPS and no internet."

The internet and the GPS both came out of the defense department.

The protocols for the internet were developed as way to get around destroyed communication centers while the GPS was initially developed for military use.

David Govett said at May 11, 2009 9:20 PM:

The Internet and GPS came out of the taxpayers' pockets. Well worth it.

Engineer-Poet said at May 12, 2009 6:16 PM:

Quoth Jay:

The government has no skill at selecting energy solutions. Now if they would just stop funding the thousand other energy boondoggles, they could give the money back to the people.
Hmmm.  Do you mean, perhaps, nuclear power?  (While the choice of the LWR over the molten-salt reactor is probably an example of an inferior technology pushed to the fore, it makes 19% of US electricity and ~80% of France's... and it came out of the DoD.)

Or do you mean wind power?  Until the crash of NG prices along with the recession, it was much cheaper per kWH than NG and far cleaner than coal.  While we may have a period of low NG prices due to the recession and cheap LNG (made as a byproduct of liquids production in the ME and sold for essentially the cost of shipping), this will end abruptly when the world economy starts to pick up and wind will again be a very cheap energy source.

Our government has funded some stinkers in the last 40 years (MHD, corn ethanol, fusion).  But industry no longer gets enough tax support to finance anything like Bell Labs, so the long-range stuff falls to the one organization which can fund the speculative work and harvest the benefits (from taxes).

Quoth Michael:

Re: hydrogen

Who'd a thunk?
Well, I did, for one.  Also, Europe pulled the plug ~3 years before we did.

Quoth kurt9:

hybrid car technology will evolve over the next 2-3 decades that will result in cars that have an average fuel efficiency in the 35-40 MPG range
How soon they forget.  All of the Big 3 had hybrid prototypes which achieved 72-80 MPG... back in 2000.  This program was one of the first to be killed by BushCo in 2001.

You have also forgotten that this hype-drogen "Freedom Car" scheme was thrown in as a sop to placate the advocates of PNGV, but the multiple crippling deficiencies of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles means that the specifics were certainly chosen to allow zero effect in the marketplace (and on oil consumption).  We are now going back to what we should never have stopped.

I still think we should try Bush and Cheney for high treason for killing PNGV and otherwise leaving us at the mercy of the Saudis.  However, we don't have an administration willing to do what needs to be done.

Paul F. Dietz said at May 13, 2009 4:35 AM:

It is worth noting that modern railroad locomotives are hybrids.

And GE is moving to true hybrid locomotives, with sodium-metal halide batteries.

http://www.greencarcongress.com/2009/05/ge-halide-20090512.html#more

Engineer-Poet said at May 13, 2009 7:59 AM:

It makes less sense to hybridize locomotives than to electrify the rail system.  Electric locomotives are more powerful, simpler, quieter and far cleaner than any diesel can be, hybrid or not.

To promote this, we'll probably have to exempt the added infrastructure from local property taxes.  But we should have done that anyway, because freeways don't pay taxes on the improvements or even the land they sit on.

Dave said at May 13, 2009 10:39 AM:

poet, but surely the technology that created the PNGV 80mpg prototypes hasn't been lost? why can't it be used now?

Engineer-Poet said at May 13, 2009 3:59 PM:

The teams were disbanded 8 years ago, the know-how scattered to the winds or hired by Toyota, the IP superceded or blocked by patents owned by Japan or even China.

Today's progress is coming from innovative outfits like FlyTheRoad and Aptera.  (Yes, they are 3-wheel vehicles.  The testing requirements for 4-wheelers are very expensive, probably to keep small competitors out of the market.)

Randall Parker said at May 13, 2009 7:10 PM:

E-P,

It had never occurred to me before: railroads pay property taxes? Do they pay property taxes to huge numbers of jurisdictions?

Engineer-Poet said at May 14, 2009 2:52 AM:

I'm sure they pay property taxes to every jurisdiction in which they have ROW.

Kevin said at May 14, 2009 1:17 PM:

If is was the way to go wouldn't Obama bring it back or another car company take it and run? Perhaps the GOVERMENT does not want 80mpg cars on the road...behind closed doors. Where would they get their road tax from....it would be cut down by 75%. Toll roads by way of easy pass paying is the only answer for the government to collect the needed money for the highway infrastructure. I have e-mailed them many times no one wants to listen paying automatic tools is the only answer to the gas tax if cars get 80mpg. Then we all pay for what we use of the road system regardless of the MPG you get in a car.

The Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles was a cooperative research program between the U.S. government and major auto corporations, aimed at bringing extremely fuel-efficient (up to 80 mpg) vehicles to market by 2003. The partnership, formed in 1993, involved 8 federal agencies [1], the national laboratories, universities, and the United States Council for Automotive Research (USCAR), which comprises DaimlerChrysler, Ford Motor Company and General Motors Corporation. On track to achieving its objectives, the program was cancelled by the Bush Administration in 2001 at the request of the automakers, with some of its aspects shifted to the much more distant FreedomCAR program.

th said at May 14, 2009 3:07 PM:

"In what appears to be a lack of coordination between different branches of the U.S. government, emissions became a big stumbling block contributing to the failure of PNGV. The PNGV engineering emission objectives had been set at 0.16 g/mi NOx and 0.027 g/mi PM, while the EPA’s Tier 2 emission standards require a fleet average NOx limit of 0.07 g/mi and 0.2 g/mi NOx and 0.02 g/mi PM emission limits in the most relaxed permanent certification bin 8. In order to be commercially viable, vehicles would likely need to be certified at least in the bin 5 of 0.07 g/mi NOx and 0.01 g/mi PM. In effect, the PNGV research was developing vehicles that would not meet emission standards that come to power in 2004.

If successful, fuel cell vehicles are likely to require at least 10-20 years of development before reaching the market. The DOE has not expressed its position in regards to energy efficient light-duty vehicles in the short term, other than issuing a vague statement that Freedom CAR would continue support for petroleum-dependent technologies that have the potential to “dramatically reduce oil consumption and environmental impacts”.

No numerical targets for energy efficiency or emissions of the Freedom CAR have been announced. A formal partnership agreement is expected within the next few months.

Source: U.S. DOE"

Geez, I didn't know cheney and bush were such sticklers on emissions, I always thought that was the lefty loons, looks like cheney and bush should be celebrated for killing what essentially under clinton became a program that focused on diesels, what say you now greenie-poet.

th said at May 14, 2009 5:08 PM:

sayeth thouest:
"Or do you mean wind power? Until the crash of NG prices along with the recession, it was much cheaper per kWH than NG and far cleaner than coal. While we may have a period of low NG prices due to the recession and cheap LNG (made as a byproduct of liquids production in the ME and sold for essentially the cost of shipping), this will end abruptly when the world economy starts to pick up and wind will again be a very cheap energy source."

Does this analysis of yours include for every 1000mw of conventional power generation, 3000mw of wind must be installed, and do you really think windpower will ever become baseload, in Denmark, about 25% of wind generation has to be exported because the wind blows when they don't need it. Also the comparison to natgas generation is a bit of a ploy. Natural gas has always been considered a lousy feedstock for power generation because it competes and drives off other uses for a valuable fuel and drives the price up needlessly. But since the 90's, the greenies blocked every other source(coal, nuke etc) from being permitted. Building new natgas power generation was actually banned in the seventies because the price of gas soared and here we are again, the price soars to record levels after the loons started mandating new natgas plants. I'm not sure but I think subsidies per gigiwatt or mega for coal are about 40 cents, for wind its $29, this silly crap will never beat coal or nuke, and the plan already being implemented will be to drive power prices so high that even the most uneconomical and absurd, ie wind will fit in nicely.

Engineer-Poet said at May 15, 2009 6:50 PM:

Quoth Kevin:

Perhaps the GOVERMENT does not want 80mpg cars on the road...behind closed doors. Where would they get their road tax from....it would be cut down by 75%.
Heavy trucks do most of the damage to highways, and Wal-Mart is in the process of doubling the fuel economy of its fleet.  Where will road money come from, indeed?

Why not from a $2/gallon tax on fuel for heavy trucks?  That would put the cost where it belongs, and help shift freight to rail (which pays for its own roadway... and property taxes too).

Toll roads by way of easy pass paying is the only answer for the government to collect the needed money for the highway infrastructure.
Thereby turning the roads into a mass-surveillance system (already going in Illinois and other places).  It's also a huge boondoggle; the Illinois tollway authority was faced with paying off its bonds and putting itself out of business, and promptly spent a multi-billion dollar sum on new tollway gear so its officials still had jobs.

The problem with use of roads by light vehicles isn't miles driven, it's peak-hours demand.  If everyone benefits from goods delivered by road (and they do), it makes more sense to fund roads from property taxes and only charge fees to spread usage around the clock.

Travis Monitor said at May 18, 2009 9:46 PM:

CO2 is actually harmless and is the basis of all life on earth, so it is beyond silly to spend millions deciding to bury it.

Almost as silly as taking valuable used nuclear fuel and instead of recycling it, deciding to make recycling ILLEGAL and then declaring we will
bury it in a hole in a mountain for eons. ... and then after 20 years and $20 billion, deciding 'no, not that mountain, maybe we'll find another one'.

The fact that 80% of Govt spending on energy projects is boondoggles, while real opptys lay fallow is more proof of the inherent failure of Govt to pick winners than anything else.

Someone prior was whining that PNGV was sidelined by Bush in 2001 on behalf of 'freedomcar' when in fact it was mostly the same projects, groups and activities in both, and when Bush admin put mucho $$$ into hybrid tax subsidies, etc.

So now Obama reverses course on hydrogen (I agree) and on Yucca mtn (I disagree), and we zig-zag around aimlessly, wasting money while the private sector (eg toyota) just builds the real cars.

"Now if they would just stop funding the thousand other energy boondoggles, they could give the money back to the people."

I agree with this.

Someone said "well we need govt to make the internet" I *disagree* that the govt was needed to create the internet. Private sector initiative built 90% of internet technology. The other 10% would have happened anyway if the govt wasnt around to fund it.

I also disagree that we need govt to build solar panels, wind turbines, car batteries, hybrid engines/cars, high efficiency HVAC. Best Govt could do is research next-gen lead-cooled nuclear reactors and be done with it. Universal cheap and safe power!

Engineer-Poet said at May 19, 2009 12:10 PM:

The dose makes the poison.  Water is also essential to all life on earth, but too much of it will kill most organisms.  Oxygen at partial pressures above about 2 bar will eventually harm or kill a human.

Lead-cooled FBRs need about 20 tons of fissiles per GWe of output; we only have the fissiles to start 20-30 of these, per LeBlanc.  They may be good for disposal of trans-uranics but they don't appear to scale well.  I'd go for LFTR at this point, with the USA built on breeders for domestic use and denatured-salt converters for export.

One of the proposals for the heat engine for new reactors is supercritical CO2 turbines.  I've been reading Vaclav Dostal's dissertation on this subject with fascination.  It may be possible to incorporate this as part of an oxy-fuel combustion system running on carbon monoxide, boosting the thermal efficiency well into the 60% range and providing a sequestration-ready stream of CO2 at the cold-side outlet.  More on this as I learn more.

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